Members of the two teams shake hands after their series came to an end following the Kings' 2-1 win over the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of their Western Conference quarter-final series at Staples Center on May 10th, 2013. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Members of the two teams shake hands after their series came to an end following the Kings’ 2-1 win over the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of their Western Conference quarter-final series at Staples Center on May 10th, 2013. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

After winning their third straight game to claw out of a 2-0 deficit and take a 3-2 lead in this first-round series with the St. Louis Blues, the Kings returned home for Game 6 tonight. You can bet Darryl Sutter likely wanted to make no changes to the lineup that won the first road game for either team in this series, 3-2 in overtime in Game 5 on Wednesday. However, Kyle Clifford is apparently dealing with an undisclosed injury, and was unable to play tonight. Jordan Nolan was reinserted into the lineup to take his place, as the left wing on the fourth line alongside Colin Fraser and Tyler Toffoli. Despite the win on Wednesday, the Kings didn’t play especially well, and would need to be better tonight as they looked to close this series out. The good news was they were back at Staples Center, where their 19-4-1 record in the regular season was the best home record in the NHL, where they’d won both games played there in this series so far, and where overall they’d won nine straight games. The Kings definitely wanted to end this tonight, rather than go back to St. Louis for Game 7 on Monday and be forced to win another game on the road. Since the Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs, were eliminated from the Calder Cup playoffs, the Kings had called up 12 players from Manchester — forwards Andy Andreoff, Robert Czarnik, Brandon Kozun, Brian O’Neill, Tanner Pearson, Anthony Stewart (whose brother, Chris Stewart, the Kings are facing in this series), Linden Vey and Jordan Weal, defensemen Andrew Bodnarchuk, Andrew Campbell and Nicolas Deslauriers, and goaltender Martin Jones. They also called up defenseman Colin Miller from the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL, defenseman Alex Roach from the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, and goaltender Jean-Francois Berube from the Kings’ ECHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign. Most of these guys are prospects who aren’t going to play in these playoffs, but the Kings want them to get experience by being around them during their playoff run (they are able to bring all of these guys up because rosters are unlimited after the trade deadline, as long as you remain under the salary cap). They may even practice separately from the Kings. However, I found it interesting that Stewart got called up, as he isn’t exactly a prospect, being a 28-year-old who is an unrestricted free agent after this season. He does have 262 games of NHL experience under his belt, though, so perhaps the Kings wanted to bring him up to serve as a spare forward for them, especially with Clifford now dealing with an injury.

The game got off to a pretty good start with good pace from both teams, and then with just over seven minutes to go in the first period, along the left boards by the circle in the Kings zone, Dwight King chipped the puck out off of the boards while facing the opposite way to Fraser at the top of the zone, and he entered the Blues zone, then by the boards he dropped it back to Drew Doughty, and he wound up for a slap shot as he walked into the circle, stopped his wind up and brought his stick back down, then took a shot that beat Brian Elliott between his blocking arm and his torso, as he was only able to get a piece of it. I’ve ripped on King a lot this year — and for good reason, he’s mostly been awful. And I still say he has no business on a good team’s second line. But, he has been better recently. That said, I really like what I saw from Toffoli tonight and pretty much what I’ve seen from him in general in his first two NHL playoff games, and I’d still consider swapping him with King, as he’s more gifted offensively and could be a better fit on the second line with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. It ended up being a period in which both teams looked pretty good. The Blues perhaps held a slight advantage in play, as they also held an 8-5 edge in shots in the opening frame, but it would be the Kings holding the 1-0 lead.

The Blues came out strong to start the second period, and just over two minutes into it, Alec Martinez headed to the penalty box for hooking. The Kings killed off the penalty, but shortly after, from the low left slot in the Kings zone, David Backes passed the puck back to the right point to Roman Polak, and he quickly slapped a shot that was going to go wide right of the net, but instead deflected off of the left leg of Chris Porter in the slot, beat the blocker of Jonathan Quick and went off of the post and into the net. The Kings began to pick up their play, and then as the time remaining in the period winded down, Rob Scuderi blocked the puck in the middle of the ice, Dustin Penner picked it up and skated it into the left side of the Blues zone and took a slap shot that appeared to hit the shaft of Polak’s stick above the circle, change direction, come up and knuckle a bit, and it beat Elliott’s blocker, hit the post and went into the net. The puck appeared to go in right as time expired. They reviewed it, and it was confirmed that the puck crossed the goal line before time expired. Needless to say, that was an enormous goal, as the Kings now headed into the third period with the lead, needing 20 minutes of shutting down the Blues to advance to the next round. As I said, the Kings got better as the middle frame wore on, and ended up holding an 8-6 edge in shots in it.

Both teams looked good to start the third period, and then just over halfway through the period, the Kings got a chance to add an insurance goal, as Alex Steen took a penalty for interference. The Blues killed it off, but time was running out on them. They weren’t able to pull Elliott for an extra attacker until there was under a minute left, and they really weren’t able to generate anything dangerous, as the Kings held on to win the series. The Blues held an 8-3 edge in shots in the final frame, but it wasn’t enough.

If you remember my series preview, I said that the five keys to this series for the Kings were essentially for them to get a split on the road to start the series, to beat the Blues at their own game, to win the battle on special teams, for Quick to play like he did late in the regular season, and for Anze Kopitar to be great. Well, they didn’t get the split on the road, and things looked bleak early in the series, but it ended up not mattering. They were incredibly physical, they were slightly better on the power play, Quick, apart from a few terrible gaffes, was mostly great, and Kopitar came on late in the series, as did many of their other top players. They showed great resiliency to win four straight games to win this series after falling behind 2-0 in it. The Kings will now move on to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and their opponent in the Western Conference semi finals will either be the second seed in the West, the Anaheim Ducks, or the sixth seed, the San Jose Sharks. Game 7 between the Ducks and the Detroit Red Wings goes on Sunday, and that game will decide the Kings’ fate. If the Ducks win, the Kings will play them. If the Red Wings win, the Kings will get the Sharks. Either series will be great between rivals in both the Pacific Division and California. Personally, I’d rather see the Kings face the Sharks. I’d love to see the Kings get a chance at revenge from when the Sharks knocked them out of the playoffs in six games in the first round two years ago, and the Kings will also finally get home-ice advantage in a series if they play San Jose. Once again going back to my series preview, you may remember that I predicted the Kings to win this series in six games, and I got that right. If you read my preview for the rest of the series in the West, you may remember that I also predicted the Wings to win their series in seven games, so we’ll see if I also get that one right. Whoever the Kings end up facing, you’ll get a post previewing that series from me, as well as a post previewing the rest of the series in the second round once they’re all set. That’ll be up sometime before the second round starts, whenever that is, so be sure to stay tuned for that. For now, it’s time for my picks for tonight’s three stars.

Third Star: Drew Doughty.

Doughty played nearly flawless defense all series, and also chipped in three points in six games. Tonight, he was once again playing his amazing defense, and he also stepped up, joined the play and opened the scoring in the first period today, showing tremendous patience before letting go of a great shot.

Second Star: Jonathan Quick.

Quick mostly played well in the first two games of this series, but two glaring gaffes, coupled with his team’s lack of offense, saw them in a 2-0 hole in the series. Well, he didn’t let that phase him, and he played a key role in the Kings’ four straight wins. He may have only faced 22 shots tonight, but make no mistake, he was great once again. Many of the 21 saves he made were not easy.

First Star: Dustin Penner.

Penner may have only had two points in this series, but he was an absolute monster. Again, for the second straight year, it’s been incredible how he’s turned things around in the playoffs after an abysmal regular season, even if he isn’t getting the points to represent how well he’s playing. However, tonight, he scored the ultimate game-winning goal with under a second left in the second period. I can’t say enough about that goal. He had the puck in the middle of the ice with approximately three seconds left. If I was him, I probably would have seen the clock, given up, skated the puck back into my zone and ran out the time. Good thing I’m not Penner, because he never gave up, skated the puck into the Blues zone, and took a great shot that got a fortunate deflection and beat the buzzer, and it ended up being the difference tonight. Without that goal, the Kings might have a game in St. Louis on Monday.

Follow me on Twitter, @Jack_Weber_.

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